Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And so it begins...

A young woman falls from a window during a party. Everyone was drinking. She was apparently having fun. Was it an accident? Was she pushed? Did she jump?

I'll tell you in 200 pages or so.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thank you, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Fiction review: five mysteries

Published: September 27, 2009

You're without a definitive idea for a thesis, you've had to have your beloved cat put down, you're working temporarily in a corporate snakepit, you've discovered your temporary roommate's murdered body -- and you're suspected of killing him.

Grad students' lives aren't generally this complicated, but Clea Simon makes it all work in Shades of Grey (216 pages, Severn House, $28.95), the first in her projected series featuring Dulcie Schwartz. The author of four books featuring Cambridge, Mass., rock journalist Theda Krakow, Simon steps boldly onto a new path with Harvard student Dulcie.

And though this is a fine whodunit, it's not just another mystery. Simon gives it a hint of the supernatural -- Dulcie thinks the spirit of her late cat, Mr. Grey, is trying to warn and protect her -- as well as subplots involving hacked computers and Gothic novels.

Dulcie's an intriguing and sympathetic lead character, Simon's plot is well-conceived and the feline angle satisfies without being overplayed. And "Shades of Grey" reminds us that our pets are never gone from our hearts. Give this one a blue ribbon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One more reason to shop an indie bookstore!!

Amazon now says "Shades of Grey" ships in 1 or 2 MONTHS?! That's ridiculous! But you can order a copy today - signed, no less - from Harvard Book Store or Brookline Booksmith. You can order online, just the same as with Amazon. Or call them! Yup, they ship - and you'll be dealing with a real, live person at a real, live local and independent bookstore.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: "Thank You for Not Reading"

One great thing about getting back out in the blogosphere is that I've reconnected with Patti Abbott, whose blog features weekly "Forgotten Friday books," a great place to discover – or rediscover – great, but not best-selling reads.

Maybe it's my mood. Maybe it's the latest rejection for my Dogs Don't Lie (a good rejection, but still...). Maybe it's Mercury still being retrograde. Whatever the reason, I found myself looking through my bookshelf for Dubravka Ugresic's spot-on skewering of the publishing industry, Thank You for Not Reading, and choosing it for my Forgotten Friday book.

Now, TYFNR isn't that old - it was first translated into English in 2003 and I found it as a Dalkey Archive paperback the year later. But it never received the attention it deserved. I guess that's what happens to small press authors without a country (Ugresic writes about feeling at loose ends ever since the dissolution of Yugoslavia) unless they fall into one of two recognized categories: the Gloomy Writer (an Eastern European we welcome, because he confirms our stereotypes) or the self-styled Great Man (as in "The Great Bulli"), one of those self-important, macho types (think Saul Bellows, I did) whose existence depends on subservient women. Ugresic herself is not at all gloomy. Despite the depressing subject matter, this is a laugh-out loud book, at least for those who have lived through the rejections, the silent (or missing) agents, and the general foolishiness of this industry ... and still keep on writing. What kind of world is it where Joan Collins can open a book fair? A very dark and silly one. "Come back, cynics!" Ugresic concludes one particularly sharp essay. "All is forgiven."

This is a great book for days like today, when you get a rejection and are able to think, "Well, at least it's a good rejection." You know who you are.

On a serious note: "The literary market does not tolerate the old-fashioned idea of a work of art as a unique, unrepeatable, deeply individual artistic act. In the literary industry, writers are obedient workers, just a link in the chain of production..." Yup, what more needs be said?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Things you'll do

I found out last night, when a neighbor's pitbull went through my back screen door like it was wet Kleenex, that I am the type of person who will throw herself on a pitbull to save her cat.

We are both ok. (Me and Musetta, that is. I do not care about the dog, whose owner was close behind and took him away.) Interesting thing to know about oneself. Case manager at my mom's rehab asked if this would go into a book. I don't know. It's way too soon.

I don't even think I can write any more about this here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The waiting is the hardest part...

(Wrote this for the Sept. Shedunnit, the Sisters in Crime newsletter, and thought I'd share here:)

“The first things writers want – and this sounds so basic, but you’d be surprised how unbasic is is in the publishing world – is a quick response. Once they’ve finished a new manuscript and put it in the mail, they exist in a state of suspended emotional and psychic animation until they hear from their editor, and it’s cruelty to animals to keep them waiting.” – Robert Gottlieb, The Paris Review Interviews

Recently, I completed a manuscript for the second book in my Dulcie Schwartz series. It was a difficult birth, seeing as how for some reason I can no longer recall, I’d told my editor that I could easily turn it in within four months. I’d figured out, I think, that if I wrote a mere 2,000 words a day, I’d churn out enough copy and to spare for a cozy-length mystery by my deadline, and still have, oh weeks, to revise the thing.

Did I have a plot at that point? No. Did I have new secondary characters, a crime, a motive, or even a theme? No. Did I have other work – editing, a class to teach, a ghostwriting project? Yes. But you know what? The hardest part of writing what will now be “Grey Matters” (slated for Dec. ‘09 UK publication with Severn House, thank you very much) wasn’t meeting my own, somewhat ridiculous deadline. Nor was it even climbing over the growing pile of discarded papers, opened books, and journal articles that I scrambled through for research. Or even the heartfelt apologies to friends and family members who were either ignored or burdened with impossible tasks (“Of course you were supposed to shop and make dinner – how could I take time to tell you? I’m writing!”). The hardest part by far was the seven weeks following my agent sending the beast off to my editor. It was that month in a half during which I vacillated from “It’s the best thing I’ve ever written” to “it’s utter crap,” from “Well, at least it’s better than the first book” to “does a ghost cat even make sense?” with increasing rapidity. That waiting was relieved, briefly, when my agent sent out a tentative query and we found out that the editor hadn’t received the manuscript. (She must have figured that I simply hadn’t met my own deadline.) We then re-sent it and had a final two-plus weeks, during which I was alternately weepy and brittle, proud and prone to utter despair.

Why is the waiting, to paraphrase Tom Petty, the hardest part? I think largely it’s because for all our isolation, we writers are communication junkies. We want feedback. We deal with our hours alone, muttering things like “minimum lethal dosage,” because they are necessary in order to make the crazy worlds inside our heads into something that we can share. And when they are made as real as we can make them, we want those outside our heads to rush in, walk around, spot the bodies, and scream. When theydon’t, we are disappointed. We feel abandoned. And we slowly go nuts.

Friends, with all the best intentions, tell us to “enjoy the time off.” Like that was possible. They couldn’t see that fun for a writer is synonymous with being hip-deep in a new project, where an overheard comment or a street sign makes you start scribbling notes. When we interrupt family dinners to ask about the force needed to drive a fork through someone’s eye. This is what fun is for us, for me, anyway, and I don’t want time off.

There’s a cure for the ills of waiting. It’s known as starting another project. Because as soon as we get involved in a new story, the old one loses its grip. It becames stale, yesterday’s news. And that has the double benefit of giving us distance, which helps when that manuscript comes back and we need to be gimlet eyed to root out all the errors and awkward bits that we so blithely read over the first thirty-eight times.

Usually, I can do this, too. In fact, while I was waiting on my latest Theda Krakow mystery (Probable Claws), I’d drafted a new work, with a hard-boiled animal psychic. So, at first, when Grey Matters> went off, I went back to that “pet noir,” revising that one more time before handing it to the agent. But then that went out, too, and I was not only exhausted, I was at loose ends. Should I attempt another Dulcie or another pet noir? Return to the dark rock-and-roll mystery that I’ve been kicking around for two years now? Try to write something that didn’t feature cats? Pen an article for Shedunnit?

The latter seemed like a good idea, the methadone that would wean me from the shakes and the cravings. But while I dithered and tarried, picking up books (like those Paris Review interviews) and putting them down again, I had news. My editor had accepted “Grey Matters,” and I had to get to work on revisions. No word on the other project yet, but that’s okay. I’ve got a deadline again. A project. And so of course, I immediately got to work on this. Just keep those deadlines coming, folks. Anything less is cruelty to animals, and you know how I feel about that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

So you want a signed book...

I wish I could travel everywhere, but small press budgets (and small-writer budgets) don't make that possible. However, even if you can't come to one of my readings, you can buy a signed book from these lovely, indie bookstores. If you buy your book BEFORE my event, I can even personalize it – sign it to you (or your cat). Both these stores ship and will have extra signed books on hand after my events. Call or email them for details:

Brookline Booksmith Brookline MA. 617-566-6660. My reading is THIS Thursday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.

Harvard Book Store, 1256 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, MA 617-542-READ. My reading is next Tuesday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Shades of Grey" September!

Yow, it's September! And Shades of Grey, my first Dulcie Schwartz mystery, is making its US debut (in reality) with a (virtual) tour.

Yes, I will be doing some live in-person readings. But this time out, I'm focusing on the online world. That means you can drop by and say "hi" at:

Lesa's Book Critiques, Sept. 1 (interview)
The Conscious Cat, Sept. 4
One Writer's World, Sept. 5
"The Well-Read Donkey," (Kepler's Books blog) Sept. 8
Lesa's Book Critiques, Sept. 8 (guest blog)
Caroline Leavittville, Sept. 9
Musings of a Bookish Kitty, Sept. 10
Mayhem and Magic, Sept. 10
Cozy Chicks, Sept. 13
"The Well-Read Donkey," (Kepler's Books blog) Sept. 15
Cozy Murder Mysteries, Sept. 25
The Lipstick Chronicles, Sept. 26

I'll be talking about "Shades of Grey," sure, but also about other books, reviewing, publishing, research... you name it. And I'll be offering some giveaways, too. No, I won't say at which posts! You'll have to come on by, leave a comment, ask a question. Join in for Shades of Grey September!

"Cries and Whiskers" in mass market!

Finally! Cries and Whiskers – the third Theda Krakow mystery – is now available in a mass market (read: cheap) paperback edition from Worldwide. Cool new cover, too!